Death rates for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer combined have fallen 30% in the last 20 years, according to a report released this morning.

Cancer Research UK figures show that death from breast cancer in the early 1990s have fallen by 38%, while bowel cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer fell by 34%, 27% and 21% respectively. The fall in breast cancer has been achieved through screening, developing more specialist care and more effective treatments like tamoxifen and, more recently, anastrozole and letrozole.

Today almost 3,000 fewer people a year die from bowel cancer than 20 years ago and the recent introduction of screening for the disease is likely to further reduce mortality rates, says CR UK. The charity adds that “the lung cancer story is double-edged”, because as smoking rates began to fall later in women than in men, “death rates have actually risen in women”. Also there has also been little improvement in the outlook for people who  are diagnosed with the disease.

Improvements in treatment - including surgery, hormone therapy and radiotherapy - as well as earlier diagnosis, are thought to have contributed to the trend of reduced prostate cancer death rates. However CR UK notes that mortality rates in liver, pancreatic, melanoma, oral and some digestive cancers have all increased.

Chief executive Harpal Kumar said that “the UK remains a world leader in cancer research, responsible for many of the breakthroughs that have reduced the impact of cancer”. However, while the death rate for the four biggest cancer killers falls, “it’s vital to remember that more needs to be done to help bring even better results over the coming years”.

Dr Kumar added that there are over 200 different forms of the disease and for some of these, “the advances are less impressive, such as pancreatic, oesophageal and liver cancer”. He concluded by saying “we’re determined that the research we fund will help save more lives, developing better, kinder treatments which will beat cancer sooner.”